Tuesday, August 16, 2011

2 videos from Roof Day!

Seriously, watching this is inspiring, however, in person it was even more so...

Some rock jumping in Las Cascados

Hehe... First Eric, then Jeremy... and then Karlie and her slap...

Go go Betito!

Jeremy went again, and then Chris, too...

A couple random videos from our time to/in La Palmilla

This is the road from Teziutlan to Tlapacoyan.

This plant is found up the street from Jennifer, who later found it in her yard as well. It's rather interesting.

Some of Team Dirt digging...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Officially HOME

We are officially home! After taking off in Washington, DC at 7:10, we landed in Philadelphia at 7:42 and were in cars and on our way home by 8:15. Well, all except Chris. Chris' host Cesar gave him a beautiful eclipse sundial that Chris carried faithfully from La Palmilla to Puebla and Mexico City. However the airline would not let him bring it on the plane as carry-on. They also denied Amy from carrying a hammock on board (the hammock is a hammock seat with a rounded stick holding the netting). The security argued that these items could be used as weapons. So they had to take them back to check them in but they also shrink-wrapped them together so they only had to pay for them as one item.

Well, when we landed in Washington and went through Customs, we had to then take our baggage and put them on belts to go on to Philadelphia. Chris picked up the sundial and knew something was wrong. It was smashed in about a dozen pieces. So when we left the airport he was still in Philadelphia filing a claim for the damaged luggage.

All in all, every issue we ever had, all the sickness, all the heat, all the problems with the airlines... We have all agreed it was well worth it. It was an amazing trip and an incredible experience. But we really are glad to be home.

Well, some of us are.

Survey says...

Still delayed in Washington (it just changed, we're now supposed to depart at 6:42) so I have a little time to do this. Sue asked us each to make a list of our top ten favorite trip memories, whether spiritual, physical, etc. Then she compiled all the top-ten lists into one big list of favorite moments. So here they are. If you want to know what they mean, ask one of us!

Honorable Mentions:
Bret sharing the telescope with the kids
Speaking Spanish - both good and bad
Ken, the rap expert
Laura working hard - little but strong
Answered prayers
Sharpening a pencil with a machette
Church attendance - how they take turns to get everyone in
Bret's drum-off the first night
Accomplishing the goal of pouring the roof
Guiding across the rocks to the waterfall
The Chi-Chi-Wa song

Top Ten (actually Eleven):
11. Singing "The Lord Bless You And Keep You"
10. How awesome Jen and Jeremy were
9. Our team coming together and working together
8. The beach
7. Riding standing up in the back of pickup trucks
6. Funny times with the teams - especially "Karlie-isms," Dave's Spanish skills, and singing TV theme songs
5. The Enchanted Waterfalls
4. Church services, particularly the music Wednesday and Friday
3. The people of La Palmilla/host families/kids
2. Acts of kindness by the La Palmillan people, especially the night at "The Compound."

And the number 1 favorite moment, mentioned more than any other:
1. Working with the people of the church, especially Wednesday when we poured the roof

So there you have it, straight from the mouths of everyone besides yours truly (-: I don't mind being the voice of the team but I want to make sure everyone gets represented equally!

Washington Dulles

Hi, folks. I said that the next time I post we'd be in the US, and guess what? We're in the US! We touched down in Washington DC at 3:32 PM and were in line at Customs by 3:48. It took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to get through customs and security, and then another 15 minutes to get to our gate. Which means we missed our 5:15 flight. That's the bad news. The good news is, our 5:15 flight was delayed an hour. So actually we didn't miss it at all. God is good!

We should be back in Philadelphia by 7:30 PM or so, barring any other delays. Right now I'm watching everyone's bags so they can go to Five Guys and get something to eat. We haven't eaten since 7:00 this morning so everyone is STARVED!

And just as I was writing that, Erin came back with food for both of us. God is good!

In case you didn't know it, He really is.

Final Preparations

Well last night I said that the next time I post will be in the US but I want to take advantage of the hotel Wi-Fi to post one last thing before we go. We'll be eating breakfast at the hotel this morning then heading over to the airport, and getting on a plane at 10:15. I think I speak for us all when I say we are not returning the same people we were when we left. But just to be sure I'm going to give each of our travelers an assignment. I want them each to write something about their favorite or most memorable moment on the trip and what they hope to take away from it. Then I'll take their answers and relay them here. We'll see how it goes.

We've got to get downstairs in five minutes, so I'm signing off for now. NOW the next time I post we'll be in the US!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mexico City

This morning started in Puebla, where we had breakfast at the hotel and then devotions. Sue had asked each of us to find a single verse that describes what we have experienced on this trip. These are the verses we each came up with:

Ken & Jordan: 1 Timothy 4:6-8
Eric: Rev. 3:16-20
Laura: Matthew 5:3-12
Amy: Matthew 6:26
Dave: Psalm 121
Chris: Proverbs 19:21
Shawn: Matthew 5:3-12
Jen: Luke 6:38
Erin: 1 Corinthians 12:12
Bret: 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Luke 10:17-20
Jeremy: Proverbs
Karlie: 1 John 3:18
Sue: Micah 6:8

Sue also based her devotion on Romans 12 and gave us each a verse to read. All in all it was interesting to hear so many points of view, who took what from the trip, and how we were touched by both our service to La Palmilla and their service to us.

We hopped on the bus for the two-hour drive to Mexico City. Every mile closer to home is another mile away from La Palmilla. We can feel the distance tugging at our hearts already.

We made the Mexico City limits at about 11:30 and pulled into the bus station a scant 45 minutes later. We took taxis to the hotel, about twenty minutes away. A short word about the taxis, and traffic in general, in Mexico City. I have come to believe that the lines painted on the road are completely arbitrary, more guides than actual lanes. At least, that's how everyone seems to drive. Traffic lights are also optional, left to the discretion of the driver. Now, at no time did I feel my life was in jeopardy. However, I was praying for the lives of the pedestrians outside the cab.

Twenty minutes later we were at the Hotel Palace and, praise God, no one died along the way. I am constantly amazed at how everyone drives and yet there don't seem to be a lot of accidents. They're either very good or very lucky. Or perhaps God is looking out for them. I'm not sure which it is yet.

After checking in to our hotel where it seems everyone knows Jen on a first-name basis (they ought to; she's been coming here for 24 years), we had lunch at the hotel and then we split up for a brief while. Some of us went upstairs to rest, and others went with Jen to the National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional De Anthropologia). On Sundays, admission is free to museums in Mexico, although we found out that only applies to Mexican nationals. Still, the cost was only $50 pesos (about $4) per person. It was definitely worth it. We didn't have a lot of time to spend there, but the short amount of time we spend we saw a lot of the native history of Mexico. For my part, because we had such a short amount of time, I took as many pictures as I could and then bought a book for $78 pesos that explained it all. There were exhibits for the Maya, Inca, Oaxaca, and other cultures, plus some artifacts from when Cortez arrived from the East.

After the Museum we returned to the hotel to pick people up to go to the Artesanas Ciudela (Artesans Market). We spent about an hour or so looking over wares similar to the ones we saw in Puebla but there were a lot of differences. Everything seemed to be of higher quality and more expensive looking but many of the prices were lower. It was an interesting contrast to the market in Puebla. In the center of the market is a long rectangular open area with an altar to the Santa Maria de Guadalupe at one end. There were several merchants with brightly colored blankets, Lucha Libre (literally “free fighting,” Mexican-style wrestling) masks, handmade guitars, silver jewelry, and colorful artwork on rough handmade paper.

We walked back to the hotel after the market closed at 6:00, and it started to sprinkle. We took time off to rest up a bit before going to dinner and met at 7:30 in the lobby to walk the two blocks to Sanborn's. By then the rain had stopped, and the streets glistened in the fading daylight.

Sanborn's is a department store with a restaurant in it. The food there is great, with several different fares to choose from like salads, soups, seafood, beef and the like. They also have the world famous Sanborn coffee. For those who enjoy good coffee, I highly recommend it.

We had a relaxed dinner and shared stories from the past week. Afterward we shopped a bit in Sanborn's and returned to the hotel. It's our last night in Mexico. Tomorrow our flight takes off from Mexico City at 10:15 so we need to be at the airport by 8:15 or so. We should be back in Philadelphia sometime around 6:30.

We have a lot of stories to share, stories that have not made this blog. The next time I update this, we should be in the United States. Until then, hasta luego.


In case you haven't seen yet, on the right side, there is a link for photos that Chris Valianti has taken during our trip. Today (Sunday), I have been able to finally get some uploaded... Dang me and my super high quality photos LOL!

Anyway, check them out!


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Farewell to La Palmilla

This morning was especially tough for our team as we bid farewell to our new good friends at La Palmilla. Our host families fed us well and helped us get our baggage to Jennifer's house by 8:30. We loaded everything onto a truck and then piled into pickups, SUVs and minivans and headed to Tlapacoyan to catch our 9:40 bus to Puebla.

Dave is feeling better today, but he's still not 100%. Still, it's good to see him back on his feet. I know a lot of people back home have been praying for him so we thank you all for that.

We boarded the bus in Tlapacoyan and prepared ourselves for the ascent into Teziutlan. The road winds and turns back and forth, back and forth, as the bus rolls and pitches up the narrow roadway. I am still in awe of the bus driver's skill at keeping the bus on the road while dodging oncoming traffic. All we could do was trust in God that he would deliver us whole. A few of us took Dramamine before the trip, remembering the road from last week. So when we got to Teziutlan we were all still basically in once piece and feeling OK. The trip on to Puebla was basically flat and straight but the bus does bounce quite a bit.

We went on to the hotel, back up the ramps to the bridge over the road that we remembered from last Saturday when we were here before. Was it really only a week ago that we were in Puebla? Seems a lot longer. But we stayed at a different hotel this time, Hotel Grenada, which was very nice and had big soft beds and hot showers. After a short break to settle in we had lunch in the hotel restaurant and a lot of people ordered las hamburgesas (hamburgers) which the waiter described as having mayonnaise, mustard, butter, avocado, lettuce – you know, the classic burger. (We all had a good laugh about that.) Ken had some trouble ordering the hamburger and especially when he said “with cheese.” The men of La Palmilla reminded us that Chiz (pronounced like”cheese”) is a slang term kids use for going to the bathroom. So once Ken asked for the burger con queso everything was fine.

After lunch Jen took us to the market near the center of Puebla. The market is a couple rows of shops with awnings with all kinds of wares laid out in front plus the more expensive items inside. Most of the stuff outside was your typical tourist fare – brightly colored handbags with Puebla stitched on them, small pottery, leather wallets, toy guitars, wooden snakes, the kind of stuff you find wherever you find tourists. But a lot of the stuff in the back was very nice and very nicely priced. Remembering the lesson Jen taught us before we came down, we haggled for pretty much everything, and for the most part got what we wanted for what we offered.

While we were at the market the skies opened up and poured rain for about ten minutes. We huddled under awnings until the cloudburst passed and then we continued on to the center of town.

In the middle of Puebla is the city center, el Zócalo, with a cathedral on one side and the government offices/governor's residence on the other. The first cathedral we went in, Santo Domingo's Church, was built in the 1500s and had amazing gold fixtures and gilded wood everywhere (it seemed a bit out of place among some of the poverty we've seen thus far but it's quite old and historic). There was a wedding going on in one room (the Capilla del Rosario) that absolutely shone with all the gold in it. It was quite beautiful.

The second cathedral we went in, Puebla's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, was just as old but not as opulent as the other. It's inspiring to see how people worshiped when they first came to the new world. Over the centuries they have collected artifacts and items that were important to how they relate to God.

We still have a few on our trip who need prayers. Jeremy is having a lot of pain in his back and his chest and feels generally run down, and has been experiencing chills. Erin has a heat rash that is very painful, although she was able to find a farmacia that had an anti-fungal cream that we're hoping will work. Jordan has a sore throat and is finding it difficult to eat anything. And Karlie and Sue have been having digestive system troubles since we got to Puebla. So please keep praying for our team as we return.

In two more days we will be back in New Jersey. Tomorrow we will be in Mexico City to see the sights there. We have been so blessed on this journey already but we are definitely looking forward to being home. Still, a part of us will long for the friends we have made, the places we've been, the sights we have seen in Mexico.

Friday, August 12, 2011

La Playa y Adios

Today started later than other days. We managed to sleep in to about 8 AM (we've been getting up every day at 6 but today is not a work day). When we got to Jen's house at 9 we heard the news that Dave is still not well, and in fact had taken a turn for the worse. Jen said she'd stay at the house until the doctor got there, and we would go on to the beach without her and she would catch up to us. She wrote a note for Adan and gave me some money to buy lunch for everyone.

Before our devotion we went upstairs to pray over Dave and then we sang “The Lord Bless you and Keep You.” This has been our rally cry on this trip. When we sang it at the church the other night, the villagers were very moved. Our prayer this morning was that God would touch Dave with his healing hand and put him back on his feet.

Our devotion this morning was given by Shawn Gross and was based on 2 Corinthians 12 – When I am weak, then I am strong. She also talked about 1 Corinthians 13, agape love. The love we have felt from the villagers this week has been incredible. Everyone has given freely of everything they have in order to make us feel welcome and comfortable. Everyone has been amazing, and we've felt the love of God like never before.

We went up to the church where we could see the work that was completed when we went to Martinez yesterday. The footers and retaining wall for the altar have been poured. There is an asymmetry to the sanctuary but it seems only fitting. After all, the love God has for us is so much greater than the love we have for Him. In this, our relationship is asymmetrical, just like the sanctuary of el templo.

About 10:30 we piled into several trucks to go to la playa – the beach. The drive from La Palmilla to the beach is about an hour. On the way we stopped at Martinez de la Torre for chickens. We estimated 5 people per chicken so 14 chickens for 70 people. We got 4 with no chile, 5 with chiltepin (very spicy), and 5 with barbeque. Then we went on to the beach.

San Rafael is the last little town we hit before the beach. It was originally settled by the French. It's a smaller town than Martinez or Tlapacoyan but it has a certain European charm to it – stucco buildings, statues, fountains, everything you'd expect in an old European city, yet with a Mexican undercurrent to it. The shore area looks like a shore area – lots of hotels and restaurants, lots of recreation areas, lots of people out trying to make money from the tourists. When we got to the beach we settled in a cabana on the beach with a thatched palm roof and several hamacas (hammocks). The hamaca is my favorite place to lie down. It's open and breezy and very relaxing. At our host family's house they have two hamacas and I found it best to lie there when we were resting after desayuno (breakfast).

The sand was very hot. It's darker than the sand at the Jersey shore and it burns your feet so you either have to run across the sand or wear your sandals down to the water. Some of us waded and some swam, while a few of the guys from the village went fishing. Fishing is different here – they use a large net with weights on it to trap the fish and scoop them up. However, after early success they didn't catch many fish.

There were vendors everywhere selling trinkets – little carved birds, bracelets, shell sculptures, and my favorite – hamacas! Eric wanted to buy a hammock but they were 150 pesos and he only had 100 so the guy said OK, 100. Then he sold them to everyone for 100. So I got my hamaca. I know just where it's going when we get home, too.

The chicken was fantastic. I'm all about the picante so I took the chiltepin which also came with roasted jalapeños, onions and cactus. It was so delicious, roasted on the fire and falling off the bone.

We stayed on the beach until about 5 and then we headed back to La Palmilla for a farewell service at the church. We got to the church at 7 (most of us, anyway... we got off to a late start but that's fairly normal here!) and the service began in earnest. Their services are always well-attended but tonight we had people in the overflow and out the back door, all waiting to say Adios to La Caravana. A few of us got up and gave a short testimony about what we experienced on our trip, translated by Jennifer. We spoke of the incredible love of the villagers, and of the amazing way they showed their gratitude for us. We each feel like we received more than we gave while we were here.

After our testimony and a sermon we heard from Adan from the building committee. He presented us with receipts for the materials and services they purchased with the money we brought down – 120,000 pesos. Afterward the praise band asked us to play a couple more songs and we played a couple easy songs we all know. Our favorite part was when we taught the church how to do “Allelu allelu allelu allelujah – Praise ye the Lord.” Everyone enjoyed the standing up and sitting down. It was fun.

We finished with communion, which in Spanish is slightly different format than we're used to but includes all the same elements, confession, prayer, and sharing the body and blood of Jesus. Afterward we lined up outside and said goodbye to each of the villagers as they walked by, while they each said to us “Dios los bendiga” - God bless you all. All in all the service lasted three hours. It was very moving.

It was tough for each of us to say goodbye to our host families. For me, over cena with Damian and Doris, I found it hard to put my feelings into words, especially in Spanish. But I finally offered this sentiment, which I believe is shared by us all: “Yo regreso a Estados Unidos, pero mi corazón esta aqui.” I return to the United States, but my heart is here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hace mucho calor

We are in the middle of a heat-wave here in La Palmilla which I am told is very unusual for August. In fact, I was speaking with the pastor yesterday and he told me that the hot months for La Palmilla are typically mid-April to mid-June. It is brutally hot, though. The sun is almost directly overhead at noon, and there is not a cloud in the sky. The clouds roll in in the evening to act as a blanket and hold the heat of the day in all night long. Think of the recent heat wave we had in the U.S. That's what they are experiencing here.

Working in heat like that does not come without cost. We've already had several members of our team fall out due to heat related injuries. I was the first on Monday night but I rebounded well, and with a lot of prayer I've been able to keep from overworking myself in the heat. Ken Daminger was next, and he's still not feeling 100% but at least he's been able to work today. The shame of it is that he missed all the activity yesterday. Dave Swindell and Laura Speak were both at the roof pouring yesterday and both worked hard... too hard. Both are feeling the effects of the heat even today and Dave has taken the worst of it. He stayed in Jennifer's house where there's air conditioning in a couple rooms, but tonight he came out to the 7:00 service. He didn't last long; the church building inside was sweltering. Dave went outside to sit in the cooler night air but he was on the verge of throwing up. Jen sent him to her house to spend the night in the AC again.

Our hosts have been most gracious to us through the heat. They've been telling us not to work to hard and have given us light work. They are much more acclimated to the heat but even they are feeling the effects of this heat wave. Still, their first concern has always been for us.

A brief word about the church services. Church services here are not sparsely attended. There are rarely empty seats. There are services on Sunday (a few times on Sunday), Wednesday and Thursday, because the church cannot fit the entire congregation into one service (which, if you didn't know, is why they're building a new church building to accomodate the entire congregation). Throughout the week every church member makes at least one but never all of the services (unless they're in the praise band or the pastor) because they need to make room for the others. Everything here is about taking care of others. There are those like our host families who are fairly well off comparatively. There are those who do not have the accomodations to be host families but they do other things like give of their time, working and also (for the women) cooking meals for the workers. There are those who own pickup trucks who volunteer to drive La Caravana (which is what they call our mission team) to different places. Their hospitality to us and to each other is humbling. Christians all over the world could learn a thing or two from this congregation.

One of the places that La Caravana has been driven is Martinez de la Torre. Today we drove about twenty minutes north east of La Palmilla to the center of Martinez where there is a large market. Many merchants sell their wares there. The meat markets are all in one location, probably because of the odor. But there are little shops that sell herbs or coffee or toys or shoes or what have you. For those of you in New Jersey, think of Cowtown, only more cramped, less dusty, and inside. But even that description doesn't really do it justice. It's a fascinating place.

Afterward we went to La Plaza where we had el helado (ice cream). We had several different flavors like vanilla, lime, fruit and peanut-all excellent. Then we rode back to La Palmilla where we attended the aforementioned 7:00 service.

All in all it was a day made for the sweltering heat. There was not a lot of work to do today but even the limited work we did caused us to sweat profusely. The ride to and from Martinez was refreshing as was the ice cream, and we certainly had an uplifting time at the service. Please pray for our compatriots who have been suffering from the heat. Heat exhaustion is no joke. We are very concerned for our brother Dave, which is why we all want him to stay inside at Jennifer's.

Tomorrow we are going to the beach. No work. Praise God!

¡Dios nos bendiga!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Putting things into perspective

I want to put things into perspective here. After the roof was poured we met with the architect/engineer who planned the new church building. He gave us the dimensions for the new roof (phase 3) but he also gave us a rough estimate of the cost - about $33,000 American. Contrast that to the $12,000 that this phase cost. All in all the church building will cost them roughly $150-200 thousand dollars American. That seems like a bargain to us but to them it's a veritable fortune.

Our church building burned down in December of 2003. By July 2007 we were holding services in the new building. By contrast, this building has been under construction for at least 10 years and there's still the main part of the roof to finish.

Our church building was built for a few million dollars and we took a huge mortgage to pay it off. By contrast, this building will cost about $150-200 thousand American but they are doing it as they get it, without taking loans.

Things are very different here in Mexico, that is for sure. It has certainly caused our team members to give a little thought to how we are serving Christ, both here and at home. If nothing else, perhaps we'll be a little more conscientious to how much we actually have and not complain so much about what we lack. And hopefully we'll give a little more thought to how people in other places serve God. They are an inspiration to us all.

To do: finish the roof. CHECK.

OK we came down here to pour a roof and pour a roof we did today. If you have never seen people in Mexico pour a concrete roof it is a sight to behold. Here's the basic gist of it: You have four teams of people at each mixer (two mixers). One guy runs the mixer and pours two buckets of water in. One team supplies him with buckets of water. Another team fills and pours 5 buckets of stones into the mixer. Another team (two guys) carry 50 kilo (110 lbs) bags of cement on their heads (open) and pour them into the mixer, one bag per batch. The third and final team fill and pour two buckets of sand into the mixer. The mixer operator then determines when it's soup (about 30 seconds after everything is in) and then he dumps the batch on the ground. Here's where the fun really begins. Now you have a team of guys with shovels shovelling as fast as they can about 50 lbs of wet concrete into buckets which men hoist onto their shoulders and then basically run up a steep ramp to the roof, go to one end of the roof or the other and dump the load, then run back down for more.

On the roof you have two more teams of men who are trowelling the concrete as fast as the men are pouring it out, from each end of the roof to the middle, where they meet.

While all this is going on, we also have people down below filling pitchers of water and offering them to the men who are running up and down the ramp. I tell you, it was like watching angels ascending and descending on Jacob's ladder, and to this church that is exactly what they are. Because you see, each of these men is member of the church (la iglesia). They are not getting paid to work. They are working together to build a church building (un templo). In fact, not only are they volunteers, but they are losing a day's wage each for working on the church. By taking the day to work at the church they are not working at their regular jobs. They don't get salaries. They get about $10 a day. And today they lose 20% of their weekly income.

But they don't mind. They are doing God's work and they know it. They would rather do good work for God than do work to feed their family, at least for a day. They know that their hardship will be short-lived but their reward will be eternal. But it's not a matter of working to earn one's way into heaven. It's about choosing God over the world.

Damian, our host, introduced me to a man who he said was the president of their church (basically their lay leader). He shook my hand, then he hefted a 75 lb bucket of stones on his shoulder and poured them into the mixer.

If you have never seen the Body of Christ at work, today we saw it in full-blown action.

They could not have finished this part of the roof had it not been for the money we brought down to them, so if you are one of those who donated, the people of La Palmilla say, ¡Gracias! They have one more phase to the roof construction and the third phase is the biggest. The first phase was 250 square meters (about 2500 square feet) and covers the altar area. The second phase (today) was 270 square meters (about 2700 square feet) and covers the balcony and the rear of the sanctuary. The third phase will be about 350 square meters (3500 square feet) and cover the middle. It will be high and with no columns. The construction was planned in such a way that there will be no columns in the middle to block someone's view. In the end this church building will fit about 900 Mexicans for worship. That's very ambitious in a village with only about 1500 residents. Expecially since most of the village is still Catholic.

Tonight our praise team (Bret, Karlie, Sue, Jordan and Chris) will be performing english-language praise music and hymns for the church as a way of showing our gratitude for all the hospitality they've shown us. Being here makes me think of two Bible verses. The first is the widow's mite (Mark 12:41-44) where the rich people give of their abundance but the poor widow gives all she has, two pennies. The second is the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. Whatever you do for the least of these my brothers, you do for me. We have seen both of these scriptures in action time and time again. God is good, all the time. Y todo el tiempo, Dios es bueno.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Welcome to La Palmilla!

The team doing some work.. I must say, everyone is working very hard!

Day 1-Walking up the hill to the church.

Shawn up on Jennifer´s roof. What a beautiful view she has up there!

I will add more photos tomorrow, it´s a little late and I want to get some sleep! More awesome pictures tomorrow.


Feeling better.

¡Hola, mis amigos! You may have noticed that I did not post a journal entry yesterday. That is because last night I was sick as a dog. I think it might have been a combination of the hard work and the vicious sun and the heat, plus jumping in the river to cool off afterward and then taking a rough truck ride to some orchards where we picked oranges. All of that combined to a knockout punch and I was down for the count. Jennifer (our guide and sister in Christ) told me that I ought to stay in her house where there is air conditioning, and our host family concurred. So that´s what I did. I was out by 9:30.

But it was only temporary. I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work. The work is not easy and the sun makes it even more difficult. Some of us choose to wear clothes from head to foot - jeans and long-sleeved T-shirts, gloves and hats and bandanas. This keeps the sun and the bugs off but it is also very hot. I´ve been wearing that plus an underarmour shirt which has been keeping me cool but obviously yesterday, not cool enough. We have enough water, to be sure. The church purchased a water cooler for us for $300 american, and though they have declined for us to pay them back for it, we may be able to pay half.

I don´t want to mince words here. For the most part, there is a lot of poverty here. However, what they lack in funds they make up for in love and hospitality. Our host family, Damian´s mother and wife offered to wash our clothes for us today because I wasn't feeling well yesterday. And that's what they did. And let's face it. When an American church family needs a new building they hire a contractor and an architect and a builder, much like our church did when it burned down in 2003. Yet here is a church, the entire body coming out to build the building - the men working on the building itself and the women coming together to provide us food at the end of the day. I am humbled by their riches. We could learn a thing or two abou how the Body of Christ is supposed to work together.

Yesterday we tied rebar on the roof and cleaned up the mezzanine, dug some trenches and cut bamboo for support beams (temporary). Today we pulled wire rebar out of a roll and cut it into lenths for the roof, finished digging the trench for the back walkway and moved a bunch of dirt to backfill a few areas in the sanctuary. Tomorrow they are pouring the roof! This is phase two of the roof and one more phase will complete it. This part is going over the balcony (it's a really big church, maybe as big as the sanctuary at PUMC) and phase 3 will be a few years in the future when they get the funds for it.

Hey, we brought down over 110,000 pesos! That pushed them over their goal of just 75,000. They thought they would not be able to complete the roof but they had faith in God and forged ahead. And God met their needs and answered their prayers! ¡Dios es bueno, todos las tempos!

We have seen so many of God's blessings down here it is just amazing. Tomorrow night we're going to help with the roof but in a limited capacity. They won't let us carry the concrete because it has lime in it and it burns the skin when it gets on you. Last time they poured a roof one of the men who lives here, who does this for a living, spilled some on his face and was out three days for work. That's major. So they won't let even the bigger guys carry the cement up to the roof.

Yes, carry it up to the roof. They mix it on the ground, pour it into buckets and carry it up to the roof which is over the second story. The buckets of mixed cement are about 50 lbs each. It's a lot of work especially for pouring a roof. But the men of the church do it with gladness.

Alright this internet connection costs money so ¡Adios, amigos! ¡Hasta mañana!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

How many Methodists can you fit in a van?

Apparently the number is 13, plus a driver. Here is some of the crew in the back of the van. Erin took the picture while Laura was on her lap.

¡Llegada en La Palmilla!

We left Puebla after a fine breakfast at the hotel, and caught the 12:15 bus to Tlapacoyan. It started as a long and twisty road full of bumps at about 5000 ft. elevation, past corn fields and agave plants (agave is where tequilla comes from) as far as the eye can see. After a short stop in Teziutlan, a small city with way-too-narrow roads (and lots of turns, not sure how the bus made it at all), we took a 3000 ft descent down REALLY twisty roads (that made Laura sick... she threw up at the bus station in Tlapacoyan) into the city of Tlapacoyan where we met our host families and got into trucks to drive into La Palmilla. Erin and I rode with Damian whose house we will be staying at this week. They took us straight to the church where we were greeted by the congregation of the Methodist Church here in La Palmilla, and where we were fed a supper that could not be beat. Noodle soup, fried chicken and black beans with hand-made tortillas and home-made guacamole (with and without cilantro), and limeade. It was fantastic. Oh, and the cutest little bananas. Chris Valianti and I each took a banana and wrapped it in the tortilla with guacamole and fresn-squeezed lime. No, they don´t normally eat them that way, but you know what, what first was a joke turned out to be very good.

The other thing they gave us was chiltapins. These are the second-hottest peppers on the scofield scale. They are about the size of lemon seeds and are dark green. At first I didn´t think they were too hot, not as hot as habaneros. But the heat creeps up on you. They all got a good laugh at the gringos eating the chiltapins.

Afterward we went back with our host families and settled in. At 6:30 we met at Jennifer´s house and then went to the church for a worship service at 7. They play a lot more music in their service than we typically do. Also they stand a lot more. Lucky for us we had Jennifer to translate for us. I pick up a little but not everything.

After the service I introduced myself to the drummer and he and I had a little play-off, which really pleased the congregation. There is a video (probably a lot, judging by all the cell phones) which will be posted later.

Tomorrow we will be starting work. I understand we will be working on the church in the morning, then after a short siesta in the afternoon we will go out and pick oranges in the orchards. Should be a long and fruitful day (pun intended)

¡Hasta mañana!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

We´re here!

Well, it was an adventure, but we´re here. We had a lot of issues with the ticketing this morning, and all our boarding passes were accidentally cancelled. So when we got to the counter the only person who had an actual live boarding pass was Eric, who had the issues to begin with (his name was wrong on the ticket). But nonetheless, they fixed the problem (somewhat) and got all twelve of us on the plane. Thankfully, when we landed in Mexico City, our baggage was there as well! God is good!

When we met Jen at the airport (after going through customs and immigration) we took a little bit of time to grab a quick lunch and then went to the bus terminal to take our bus to Puebla. In Puebla (and along the way) it was raining so it was a bit of a dash to our hotel across the street, La Plaza Poblana. It´s probably the best $60 hotel I´ve ever seen. The rooms are small but cute, and very colorful. But we didn´t stay long as we had to go have a light cena (supper) at Jen´s inlaws´house. We had a scrumptious fare of hot dogs, cookies, jello, flan, rice pudding and a sweet caramel concoction called Atoli.

Well just a quick note to say we´ve arrived in Puebla, safe and sound. God continues to aid us along the way, which truly tells us we are following His plan. God be praised for His great love and provision.

Minutes away!

How exciting! We are literally minutes away from departure! We will be meeting at the church in about half an hour, where we will gather and pray for our safe passage and a blessed trip. Then we will load up in cars and the church van and drive to Philadelphia International Airport to begin our voyage in earnest. I'm sure I speak for us all when I say, we're excited, nervous, looking forward to what will be an incredible opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Though we may have some worry about where we're going and what we'll be doing, Matthew 6:34 reminds us "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." So we will trust in God to guide us on our way and keep us safe on our journey, and use us as He sees fit to further His kingdom here on earth.

Vamos con Dios, que nos bendiga.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Less than 24 hours!

In less than 24 hours our team will be winging our way to Chicago, then Mexico City, where we will travel by bus (vamos en autobus) to Puebla, where we will stay for the night. In preparation, we are all packing and checking our lists, making sure we have everything we need for the trip. AccuWeather says it will rain some this week in La Palmilla, so we've got to make sure to pack our ponchos! Speaking of AccuWeather, Erin spent some time this morning and figured out how to put La Palmilla weather on this blog, so you can see what the weather is like where we are. We're quite excited! It's coming down to the wire! I'm hoping to post one more entry before we leave tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rainy Season?

¡Hola! Counting down the days until our departure, we've got just four days now until we leave. Our team members are getting our packing lists in order, packing our bags, checking our lists and checking them again. Once we're in Mexico, if we forgot anything it's forgotten! So we're trying to stay on top of everything Jen told us to pack (no more, no less!).

Speaking of Jen, she and Jeremy have been in La Palmilla getting things ready for our arrival. Today they are travelling to Puebla to visit Jeremy's grandparents and make even more preparations. Jen told us in an email today that it's been raining pretty good down there, which is great for the temperature, but not so great for the day laborers. When it rains, they don't work, and when they don't work, they don't get paid. Pray for good weather for them so they can earn a living for their families.

Pastor Peter once preached a sermon about the workers in the field (Matthew 20:1-16). We Americans may feel a pang of uneasiness over this parable, where those who worked only an hour received the same pay as those who worked all day. It hardly seems fair to us, in a society where hard work is rewarded with just pay. But Peter said that the message is totally different from a day laborer's perspective. They cheer at the generosity of the land owner, because they know what it means to need to work for a day's wage. This message is especially poignant in light of the recent weather in La Palmilla. What we see as a blessing (cooler weather) is a curse to the day laborer (no work, no pay).

So keep the people of La Palmilla in your prayers, and keep our team in your prayers as well! Bad weather means little for us to do as well! Of course, if we go to Mexico and get rained out, no doubt God has something else for us in mind. Our best course of action is just to trust in Him and continue to give Him the glory! May we ever remember that as we venture into the heart of Mexico.